Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Dave Burrell: Momentum (High Two 8)

May 6, 2007

Momentum.  When one pops this disc into the tray, the title brings some expectations.  We are ready for a thrill ride, a whirl of sound erupting and continuing unabated.  But some things move at a measured pace, but are just as difficult to stop.  A glacier probably has just as much momentum as a bullet.

This isn’t to say that Burrell’s trio here is boring, but the burn here is slow and gorgeous.  The second piece, “Broken Promise”, sounds like the dismantling of a once great powerful institution.  It is as if parts of the instruments have been taken away, and they have to make do with what is left.  While the promise may have been broken, there is still hope for the dream that promise contained.  The hope is shorn of the lies that buoyed it, but it is has found that it can float on its own.  This tune is immediately followed by the mournful “Fade to Black” with it’s wrenching arco bass melody, but this gives way to a soulful jam after three and a half minutes.

This album isn’t all so weighty, it is just the power of these two tunes, almost cinematic in scope, stands out in these proceedings.  There are other moments to enjoy, the bubbling drum showcase “4:30 to Atlanta”, the bluesy then playful then bluesy “Cool Reception”, and the smile-inducing nod to “Giant Steps”: “Coup d’Etat”.  Burrell’s trio brings a strong songbook and executes it with a very original conviction.

Burrell’s playing itself also has a sense of original conviction.  Sometimes he’s content playing a stubborn figure again and again during a solo, and at other times, he’s sounds like a slightly tired Cecil Taylor.  There is certainly a predilection more towards angular figures than traditional melodies, but it doesn’t have the bop drive of Monk.  He doesn’t compose with the intricate turns of Hill, and he doesn’t flow with the enigmatic energy of Taylor.  I haven’t heard a player like him, and he’s entirely enjoyable.  His compositions and his solos tend to find a pattern and exploit it until it turns into something else.  But it feels assured and measured.  He’s not a wanderer; wanderers can never really build momentum.

Daunik Lazro: Zong booK (Emouvance 1013)

March 13, 2007

Daunik Lazro is a veteran of the European free-improv scene from the 70s.  I became acquanted with his work through a dedication in one of Joe McPhee’s albums.  Zong book is an hour long collection of solo pieces performed on baritone and alto saxophone.  Lazro shows plenty of technique and creativity.  He sets a fine deep foundation when on the baritone, but has the skill and control to maintain ideas in registers that I didn’t even know the baritone had.  He often fixes on a low rhythmic ostinato, breaking out for more emotional statements.  Most of the pieces have a very cerebral foundation, from which he can jump into the emotional realm of the horn to provide contrast and release tension.

The two pieces that stand out on this recording are “Lucie” and “Monotonic 1”.  The former starts with splats and pops, but playfully totters into a surprisingly violent statement three and a half minutes in.  From there, Lazro’s sound blossoms into a stronger more deliberate statement than what came before and provides his own rhythmic accompianment with pops like horse gallops as the piece comes to a close.

“Monotonic 1” is an eight minute exploration that starts exactly how it sounds, but evolves into much more.  During the first two minutes, Lazro mostly stays with one tone.  Pushing, shaking, and circularly breathing
it into the background that he wants.  He is the potter, and the note is his clay.  He prepares it to be shaped, glazed, and fired.  The intensity boils over at the two minute mark, and other notes pop out of the horn.  The piece begins to take a drive on its own, and by three minutes there is a foot-tapping swing that carries through the rest of the piece.  Lazro has built up enough force out of one tone to sustain this piece all the way through to the big finale when the breaks are applied and the motion comes to a slightly jerked stop.

As much at it is clear to the reader at this point that I like this recital, there are some issues.  Mainly, most of the other pieces lack such a clear narrative and fail to capture my attention.  Only the “Zong for Dom Rep” apart from those mentioned above really sticks with me after the disc is over.  The technique is there, the creativity is there, but the vision isn’t sustained over the whole disc.  Is this a problem?  Certainly, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying what is good.

Joe McPhee: Everything Happens for a Reason (Roaratorio 09)

February 1, 2007

Since I’ve written about a McPhee solo experience before, and the Penguin Guide to Jazz has already given this four stars, I’ll just try to describe what the man is doing here.  If you have anything to add or disagree about, please add your comments.  Although, since only 500 of these exist, and there aren’t many left, I may be on a soapbox here.

The album opens with the pocket trumpet “Mythos”, dedicated to Bill Dixon.  McPhee’s trumpet playing is almost exclusively in the extended technique category, but that’s fine because he really does have extended techniques.  There are impressive multi-phonics, trills, swirling impossibly-high slurs, and breath-filled bottoms.  And some of these occur at the same time.  His slurring of notes on such a precisely tuned instrument is impressive (I once played trumpet and have no idea how he does this).  It calls your attention in a quiet and unassuming way.  If you aren’t open to listening to it, you can ignore it.  It’s not in your face, but as soon as you try to comprehend how he makes these sounds, you are lost in his spell.

The second tune is a soprano sax piece dedicated to Sidney Bechet and Steve Lacy entitled “Vieux Carre.”  McPhee starts shyly, placing a note here and a note there, piecing them into a disjointed melody.  But as the piece moves on, he puts together the theme (a very swing era style melody) with confidence and swing.  The swing propels and carries the piece until the end when the man becomes his own rhythm section.  The shyness blossoms into a confident syncopated surge.

The first side of this LP ends with Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday” on alto.  It is dedicated to Anthony Braxton, which I can only assume is the reason for this more academic and ironic reading of a somewhat sacred piece.   Braxton brought a cerebral 20th-century classical approach to a music that had always been only about the soul, and I think McPhee is paying tribute to that original idea.

The flipside begins with the title track on alto.  It’s an assault of technique that dares you to make a reason out of it.  Perhaps the point, but there are moments where logic appears, only to drift away.  Maybe that is the reason.

The song dedicated to Joe’s father, J2, is a true masterpiece of McPhee’s technique on the pocket trumpet.  It begins and ends with a simple rhythm, but in between, McPhee pulls off an incredible feat.  He seems to be using circular breathing to achieve a deep didgeridoo sound on the pocket (!) trumpet, while coaxing out a ghostly moan.  A fitting memorial to the man who introduced him to music.  Let’s hope McPhee gets to the tribute album he mentions in the liner notes.

The album ends with a piece from the McPhee songbook, “Voices.”  The soprano hypnotically swirls in many directions, playing different scales and melodies with alternating notes.  These patterns wash over us until the familiar theme arrives, and the music quickly ends.

Adam Lane’s Full Throttle Orchestra: New Magical Kingdom (clean feed CF052CD)

January 22, 2007

I admit, when the bassist is the leader of a session, I usually pass.  While the instrument is an integral part of the music, too many bassists don’t create compelling work on their own.  Sure, Mingus is there, but I can’t think of any other’s whose albums I would buy just because they were leading it.  Well, actually, now I can: Adam Lane.

Lane is a young player who can surely write a tune.  A majority of the 9 self-composed tracks on this album from his Full Throttle Orchestra are memorable and enjoyable.  There is some bop (“Avenue X”), some calypso (“The Schnube”), and most importantly, some achingly beautiful pieces of tender burning (“Without Being” and “Sienna”).  The arrangements at time are Mingusy, but the modern burn of John Finkbeiner’s guitar prevent one from over-considering that possibility.

Perhaps the most impressive composition of this outing is “Sienna.”  It’s a gorgeous and tender ballad, but still maintains a certain roughness.  There is no airbrushing here.  We get the true thing, and the connection we can make through this tune is very present.  I have often thought that the best art, no matter what the medium, immediately resonates inside our souls and speaks, “I understand being human too.”  Mingus often captured that feeling, conjuring up the passion and anger inside all of us.  In “Sienna” Lane brings us a longing so deep that we can feel the same tension and anticipation as he feels.  It is a rich, full, and mature love for another authentic person, not just the idea of a person.

A word about Lane’s bass playing.  His compositions are often supported by a simple strong bassline, and he doesn’t forget it when soloing.  When the bass player gets their chance to shine, they often forget their role as a timekeeper and tension builder.  Lane never leaves that role behind, and continues with the ebb and flow of the music, while sounding unrestrained in his improvisation.  No need to fear these bass solos.  So, make sure you’ve got some weight in the low end when you listen to this, you won’t want to miss a thing.  (This recording is available directly from clean feed, from emusic as a download, and at The Jazz Loft and Cadence.)

Marty Krystall, Plays Herbie Nichols (K2B2 3469)

January 6, 2007

This record is somewhat of a perfect storm for a bleeding heart like me. It features the compositions of neglected composer Herbie Nichols, whose life was cut short by leukemia before fame really came his way. It’s on a very independent label, which, according to Google Maps, is headquartered in somebody’s house. It was recorded directly to 2-track on a very expensive microphone. And it closes with “Suite from Carmen” arranged by Marty Krystall as a tribute to Nichols. What’s not to like?

Honestly, not much. The playing is at a high level, especially by the drummer, Barry Saperstein who fills the space with a hard-driving busy pulse, which, thanks to the Neumann USM-69, includes a visceral punch. Krystall, who plays tenor, soprano, and bass clarinet, is a player who is most interesting when he finds a clever phrase and carries it through the changes while daring Saperstein to push him somewhere else. The tunes are labyrinthine and quirky. Nichols’s writing is somewhat similar to Monk’s, but Nichols seems to leave more space for the rest of the band to participate in the heads, and the AllMusic guide lists Bartók and West Indian folk music as influences. I might not be sophisticated enough to pick that up, but the tunes are great fun. They will, with the time necessary for such cerebral compositions, get in your head.

The disc is not without its problems, however. The “Suite from Carmen” is an adventurous arrangement that steals the show. Perhaps the piece is more to my style than Nichols’s compositions. I find this the most compelling piece, and Krystall’s playing is best here, when he isn’t forced to fall back on bop conventions. The other caveat I have is with the sound, the instruments that do come in clear come in wonderfully. As they should with this type of set up. But, I think a little more attention needs to be paid to the violin and piano sound. They are both very distant in the recording, and with the philosophy behind the technique, nothing can be done with that after the recording is made. I think those problems needed to be dealt with in sound check. Perhaps they were, and this was the best outcome possible. If that is true, I would remove this quibble, as I admire the independent spirit and obvious dedication to this project. It is not often that one can be introduced to two first-class musicians on one recording, but Plays Herbie Nichols should promote wider exposure of both its leader and its subject. Two good things in my book. (This recording can be purchased directly from K2B2, or from Cadence)

Joakim Milder: Still In Motion (Dragon 188)

January 2, 2007

In this 1989 live recording from Stockholm we are treated to a very original set of compositions from a very original tenor sax. On first hearing the record appears to be a lost Wayne Shorter record from the Blue Note days, but upon deeper listening one realizes that the snaky melodicism is gone and replaced by a relentless pursuit of rhythmic ideas. Milder mostly forsakes the standard flurry of notes that usually comes from any post-Coltrane saxophone in favor of pushing and driving the band rhythmically, sometimes with a single note. He has succeeded in finding his own personal way to play an instrument that has has so many personalities conquer it in the past. An impressive task indeed.

But what does the music sound like? As I stated before, there is the immediate feel of Shorter or the Davis/Shorter band of the sixties, I think this is brought in mostly by the style of the drummer, Rune Carlsson, which owes a lot to Tony Williams. These tunes seem to escape category though. The head is as likely to start the tune as to end it, or maybe it will end up in the middle. There may be a trance like groove, or there may be a meter-less feel. This is, no doubt, due to the rhythmic quality of the leader surrounding himself with only a rhythm section. The arrangements seem fully planned out, but the only times one feels sure there is not improvisation occurring are when instruments double. I think the music can be best described as having a rhythmic hook that teases you by appearing and reappearing while the soloists fight within to forge new rhythms. It is not absent of melody and harmony, but the tonality is always gives service to the drive and swing.

While the above description may seem quite abstract, the music is wholly accessible. It could easily be played at an evening party and no one would be the wiser. Milder’s new approach to the saxophone can be subtle, but when we give it our attention, we indeed hear a new thing. (This recording can be ordered through Cadence)

Sun Ra Quartet: Other Voices, Other Blues (Horos HDP 23-24)

December 19, 2006

This is certainly an odd date.  Billed as the “Sun Ra Quartet”, we hear Ra on piano and Crumar Mainman-keyboard, John Gilmore on tenor and percussion, Michael Ray on trumpet, and Luqman Ali on drums recorded in Rome in January of 1978.  It seems Ra recorded a few albums for the label Horos with this group at this time.  This record presents us with Ra on piano occasionally, but mostly keyboard, providing a background for us to experience two of his horn players in a more focused setting.  At times, the music is missing the grandeur of the Arkestra, but it’s still a lot of cosmic fun.

The opening “Springtime and Summer Idyll” is a blues with a down home RnB feel.  We hear Ray’s fanfare-like trumpet herald the good times in this fairly traditional romp.  Ra plays an organ patch, but switches to blips for a brief solo.  The blips highlight and forshadow the intergalactic fun to come.  “One Day in Rome” is a straight 12 bar blues, but is somehow infused with a little off-kilter feel.  Something akin to what a tourist would feel in Rome, viewing the sites, while a man in a space suit wanders around the coliseum.  Perhaps this comes from Ra’s use of the piano here.  Certainly not a pristine example of the instrument, he seems to enjoy playing the notes that don’t quite sound right or in tune.   Perhaps this is why he felt the need to give it such a temporal title next to all the space jams to come.

The piece on the album which comes closest to a space freak-out is “Bridge on the Ninth Dimension”.  It starts with a cymbal marking time, while a pianissimo synth lurks behind.  Something odd is certainly coming to those unprepared by the relatively straightforward A-side of this disk.  At two minutes the horns weave in and the journey begins.  The players take turns soloing with this putty like piece.  It is fluid enough to let the particular player bend the composition to his liking, and Ra is ready to take it where the horn wishes.  Gilmore is particularly fun to hear.  He has ideas and the committment to follow them until they become a cohesive statement.  It is not the constant inspiration of an “energy” solo, but a peacefulness to take ideas that come and work with them.  His solo beginning at 5:45 builds to the piece’s climax, and by the 9:00 mark, everyone is in a different dimension.  “Along the Tiber” gives us a chance to hear the bop chops of the players.  Ray is particularly well suited to the challenge and provides a flurry of notes on his tear.

On the ballad “Sun, Sky, and Wind” we are treated to Ra’s piano work.  He visits this ballad with odd abruptly-ending rolls, and even sounds like Cecil Taylor on some of the trails he follows in the latter half of the piece.  “Rebellion” is a swirled and flanged keyboard trip which goes out in a very out way.  On “Constellation”, Ray plays the role of the herald and Ali’s plays a very strange rhythm and the album finishes with an outer space ceremony entitled “The Mystery of Being”.

This is not Ra’s best album.  The sound is spotty at best, and it doesn’t feature the whole Arkestra, but I feel it does two things remarkably well.  It gives a taste of the many styles that Ra composed in and allows us to hear some personal statements from the players.  Because of the reduced palette, we get to hear Gilmore with less restraint and Ra take center stage on his instruments instead of his arrangements.  Perhaps the best thing going for this album is one can currently find it for download at church number nine.  Enjoy it, tell me what you think below, and, if you like it, make sure to get some of the official releases.

Aaltonen, Workman, Cyrille: Reflections (TUM 007)

December 10, 2006

What musical artists have aged with dignity and relevance?  It’s hard to think of too many in our cultural landscape.  With recent discussions about the different types of artistic genius, it seems sad that the music business, especially the lowbrow portion which jazz is still caught in, is so centered on the young.  This offering by Junahi Aaltonen, Reggie Workman, and Andrew Cyrille shows that even a genre which usually brings to mind images brash young players, free improv, can have a whole different feel when the players have lived comfortably in its confines for years.

One important piece of John Coltrane‘s legacy to the free jazz movement was his spirituality.  He brought dignity and consciousness to a music that was often celebrated in undignified places, and he brought it with his meekly mannered artistic integrity.  The music on this 2002 recording is a wonderful testament to this legacy.  Aaltonen is a Finnish player who started out in many experimental and fusion ensembles in the 60’s and 70’s, but has been playing music in religious settings most recently.  He plays tenor with strong indebtedness to Coltrane, but with much more gentleness and rumination.  Perhaps what the master himself might have developed after the quick burn of the 60’s smoldered.  Workman, of course, played with Coltrane on some of his groundbreaking performances at the Village Vanguard, and Cyrille gained notoriety with Cecil Taylor on his classic Blue Note releases.   The trio here present for us 7 pieces, one written by Cyrille, one written by Coltrane, and the rest by Aaltonen.

The three elder statesmen share tunes with titles like “Serenity”, “Still Small Voice”, and “Supplications” with the authority and ease which tells us that they understand the meaning of the words through experience.  Most of music is presented free of meter, but they establish a keen sense of control and economy.  These players are not wandering, they are sharing the destination with each other and the listener.  By the sensitive interaction they display, one can even gleam a model for human interaction.  While free music can often be described as chaotic, the music here presents a picture of a world where freedom coexists with purpose and narrative.  This is no small task, and a rewarding listen.

Of course, these descriptions provide us with little about the musical structure, and I wish also to describe this to aid the reader.  The tunes often begin with a slow meditative statement and are followed by solos by Aaltonen, then Workman, and finally Cyrille.  Workman bends notes and double-stops in order to bring attention and accent while Cyrille frames the improvisation with deft cymbal work and occasionally mimics a stirring phrase in affirmation.  Aaltonen comes across as the leader, if only by virtue of playing the woodwinds.  He plays a tenor in it’s usual register, with occasional accents in the “honking” tones.  When he plays flute, he manages a full tone and uses it to full effect on “Still Small Voice.”  Here he swirls and travels early in the song; bringing to mind the despair that Elijah felt just before he heard that whisper.  Then the song shifts and the whisper speaks!  It calms and centers, just as it did to Elijah at Horeb.  It is in moments like this that one can see there is still meaning to be explored and celebrated in ancient texts, and there is still music to be made in this rapidly aging style.  If, 40 years on or 4000 years on, new lessons are being learned and shared by these players, what else are we missing by demanding the “new thing” again and again? (This recording is available from Cadence and The Jazz Loft)

Wooden Wand & the Vanishing Voice: Gipsy Freedom (5 Rue Christine GER053) and Wooden Wand & the Sky High Band: Second Attention (Kill Rock Stars 456)

December 5, 2006

In their contemporary incarnations, hippies and members of the avant-garde tend not to look upon one another particularly favorably. To a hippie, the avant-garde reeks of pretension and high-culture elitism; to the avant-gardist, hippies often seem backward-looking and hopelessly naïve. Two records released this year by groups including singer-songwriter Wooden Wand Jehovah (as he calls himself, though I won’t use the full name again, as I feel a bit silly calling anyone Jehovah) belie this idea to some extent: though to almost all indications Wooden Wand falls squarely into the hippie camp in terms of public presence, his sonic palette borrows as much from Sonic Youth as from more familiar folk or psychedelic sources, and his bands occasionally make surprising and distinctly avant-garde uses of horns, vocals, and other elements. The end result is a most unusual combination of avant-garde approach and hippie sensibilities (or maybe vice versa), and it’s delivered with both competence and easygoing confidence.

Wooden Wand and the Sky High Band’s Second Attention mostly stays close to the neo-hippie reservation, offering up ten recordings with a strumming-on-the-back-porch-while-getting-stoned kind of feel: the band has a relaxed, shambling looseness, incorporating few sonic elements that might not just as easily have turned up on a mild psychedelic pop record from the late sixties. But this loose vibe only thinly masks the solid architecture of Wooden Wand’s neat, tight compositions: though the melodies are often quite simple and highly repetitive, and the chord changes are familiar enough that you don’t need pay them the slightest bit of attention, the songs are all the same memorable and far from flabby. While some neo-folkies cloak lazy, underwritten songs with hazy psychedelic trimmings, here the tunes are straightforward out of economy, rather than laziness or thoughtlessness, and the relaxed, wide-open feel of the recordings gives the strong compositions plenty of room to stand out. “Portrait in the Clouds,” for example, spends its first minute or so in an amiable acoustic shuffle, stating its melody with enough clarity and precision that the remainder of the three-minute tune can be given up to a playful and pleasurable dialogue between a fuzzy guitar and a distorted organ. The chorus backing vocals on “Rolling One Sun Blues” offer gentle pure pop pleasure, despite (and probably also in part because of) their echoey remove from the recording’s foreground. Both of these tunes, and really all of the songs on the record, are not so much light in tone as genuinely happy: in the latter, Wooden Wand sings, “I have met a hundred Lucifers / and I have met a thousand Christs.” Any darkness or displeasure here is instantly dispelled by a firm sense that everything is really okay. In “Mother Midnight”—which judging by its title I’d feared might run into portentous bombast or perhaps Leonard Cohen imitation—the same contented and unconcerned feeling prevails, here expressed in a quite straightforward and unambiguous fashion: “Mother midnight, all is cool.” Whenever the record begins to touch on unhappiness, the bad vibes are quickly dismissed, either in direct address to a named individual (as in “Mother Midnight” or “Xiao Lee”) or else buoyed by the record’s general underlying happiness. Second Attention is shot through with an uncomplicated hippie optimism, but approaches that feeling without intolerable sermonizing or false hope: there’s no naiveté here for the avant-garde to sneer at, because Wooden Wand doesn’t beg listeners to become happy hippies, but rather coolly and confidently express their own contentedness and sense of well-being.

Given the consistent sound of Second Attention and a title like Gipsy Freedom, I fully expected more material along the same lines when I picked up Wooden Wand’s other 2006 release, recorded with an ensemble called the Vanishing Voice. But “Friend, That Just Isn’t So,” instead quite unpredictably opens Gipsy Freedom with a plaintive minute-long saxophone solo from Daniel Carter. And then when the vocal comes in, we get something quite different from Wooden Wand’s familiar, straightforward, somewhat Dylanesque singing: a strong female voice, which delivers the lyric in a precise, refined style which bears virtually no resemblance to folk whatsoever. For the remainder of the tune—which feels more like an art song than a pop song—Carter’s saxophone intertwines with the vocal lines, offering comment, contrast and embellishment, filling out the sound with no further accompaniment. The acoustic strumming that anchors every song on Second Attention is entirely absent here, and there’s nary a trace of the psychedelic in any form. The album’s expansive yet claustrophobic second track, “Didn’t It Rain,” spends more than seven minutes as a guitar drone, Carter’s trumpet gradually gaining clarity and presence until the abrupt entrance of that same strong female voice. This moment comes as a welcome shock: cold water on the face of any expectations you might have begun to settle into. “Didn’t it rain, rain rain?” the voice asks as the tension in the instrumentation builds; “Didn’t we try, try, try, my lord…We sang to the sky, sky, sky.” The cheery confidence of Second Attention seems also to be missing from this record: “Didn’t It Rain” feels like a desperate plea. The next track, “Don’t Love the Liar” provides yet another surprise: a pounding kick drum propells a head-nodding, foot-tapping punk-psych number that barely lasts a minute before the record dashes on to the tense and creeping “Hey Pig He Stole My Sound,” in which death-rattle chimes and insistent guitar push against a blanket of noise and distant tribal drums. It’s only in the loose, spacious jam of “Dead End Days with Caesar” that it becomes possible to draw a clear psychedelic through line to the material on Second Attention: for several minutes early in the tune (which clocks in at over twenty), a wandering lead guitar calls up associations of Nuggets-era garage bands with its fuzzy tone and early-rock vocabulary. Here, though, the lead finds itself in the context of static crackles and eruptions of what sound like plug noise (but might very well be something else), and eventually the song transforms into a long multi-part guitar jam with a completely unambiguous Sonic Youth influence. About twelve minutes in, the entrance of the vocals confirms this impression: they’re spoken over the noise-groove with beat poet’s inflection, much as on SY’s NYC Ghosts & Flowers. In this particular jam, at least, Wooden Wand & the Vanishing Voice lacks Sonic Youth’s density of ideas and structural rigor, but the groove is agreeable, even if it might not keep you riveted from note to note. Following that number up, and closing the album, is a brief drums-and-vocals number, “Genesis Joplin,” in which the singer sounds for all the world like Bjork. (And why not?) In the end, Gipsy Freedom threw new light on Second Attention for me: after hearing Gipsy Freedom’s wide-ranging exploration, I returned to Second Attention with fresh ears, and could hear an avant-garde impulse that I’d previously been unable to discern amidst all the easygoing folksy strumming.

(These albums can be purchased in the U.S. from Buy Olympia, Emusic, Amazon and numerous other merchants and distributors.)

Cecil Taylor: “The Old Canal” from In East Berlin (FMP 13/14)

November 19, 2006

This piece is an 80 second encore given after an hour long piece called “Reinforced Concrete” in East Berlin in 1988. The themes and ideas referenced in this short cut are found in greater detail in the longer piece.

Taylor begins with by setting a pensive mood by playing a rumbling left hand line and then sprinkles in two half notes with the right. He playes a similar, but slightly more complex statement with the left again, follows it up with more from the right. This time, where the two half notes went before, there is a “slip” in time and both hands come together. Knotty phrases are played out with these occasional “slips”, giving the sensation of walking on uneven terrain in the dark. Then come two sections introduced by rolling flourishes, giving the mood over to that of a dirge, with more authority given to the second section as tension builds. Then the tempo slows considerably as the piece fades, with only a sprinkling of the right hand to remember it by.

What makes this interesting to me, the listener, is the pace and length of the piece. Taylor’s works are always interesting and intense, but often one is left feeling like King Herod listening to John the Baptist, “When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. (Mark 6:20).” There is always the sense that an important experience, beyond your understanding, is happening. A type of genius far away from any you could be capable of. In “The Old Canal” we get a rare glimpse at understanding it. One can really hear the African-American tradition in this piece, one that Taylor is often accused of lacking. This piece is blues, not in form, but in spirit. It has none of the traditional elements, no steady beat, no 8 or 12-bar form, no tonality, but all the emotion. It takes the listener back to before the blues was codified, putting us there at the moment of its creation. It sticks with you like a dream; you can’t fully remember or describe it, but you remember how it made you feel.